“I personally think that each town is unique,” Myers said, and therefore, their economic development needs will be different.
There is little parking or space for a large business development in Smithsburg, although there is space outside the town’s borders, she said.
The Economic Development Commission could hold an annual town forum to discuss the economic development needs of small towns, according to one suggestion in the strategic plan.
“The more dialogue you have the better,” Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II said.
That would be a good way for the towns to make the EDC aware of what commercial and industrial space they have available and for the commission to make them aware of what kind of sites prospective businesses are seeking, he said.
“I think that would be a good avenue to do it,” said Myers, particularly if the public were involved.
For a small town such as hers, devoting personnel and other resources to full-time economic development duties is difficult, she said.
Boonsboro has had its own economic development commission of volunteers and a council liaison for more than two decades, Town Manager Debra Smith said.
“One of the big things they have taken on, which is a very positive development, is a business networking group,” Smith said. Every other month it brings together business people to hear a speaker on topics of interest to small businesses, she said.
The commission also focuses on improvements to the town, and on issues such as tourism and a business directory, Smith said.
Williamsport had an economic development director for about a year, but the position was eliminated due to budgetary reasons that include cuts in state aid for highways, police protection and other state funding, McCleaf said.
The towns should “periodically review their planning and zoning policies, land development regulations, and permitting procedures to ensure that they are business friendly,” the report said.
Another part of the report stated that Washington County is at a competitive disadvantage to Pennsylvania and West Virginia counties due to “burdensome land development regulations, including time required to obtain final approvals and onerous environmental mitigation requirements” that can derail economic development projects. Maryland has more rigorous Chesapeake Bay regulations than its neighbors, the report said.
“The county is our permitting board,” Hancock’s Murphy said.
He said the county commissioners soon would be in Hancock for a town meeting and “they’ll probably hear this again — hideous stories about the permitting process.”
McCleaf placed most of the blame for regulatory roadblocks on the state rather than the county.
“Maryland stinks when it comes to bringing in new business. The regulations. The rules,” McCleaf said. “We cannot compete on I-81 with Pennsylvania and Virginia unless something happens in Annapolis.”
McCleaf also suggested the EDC look to organizations such as the Franklin County (Pa.) Area Development Corporation for ideas on how it helps facilitate economic development.
“They’re willing to go to bat and make things happen,” McCleaf said.